Nigeria and Neighbors Unite Against the Threat of Boko Haram
By Frances YangPublished February 20, 2015By Frances Yang, 02/20/15
On February 8th, Boko Haram attacked a town on the Niger border overnight, effectively demonstrating to the rest of the world that it is unafraid to engage in conflicts outside of Nigeria and all across the West African region. This is only one of the ten attacks Boko Haram has taken credit for in the past month.
Boko Haram was established in 2002 to overthrow the Nigerian government and create an Islamic State. The group rejects all Western influence and resorts to violent campaigns to solidify its grip in the country. Human Rights Watch has charged the extremist group with crimes against humanity; rebel forces have abducted men, women, and children, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and killed over five thousand civilians. Boko Haram's violent campaign has only intensified and extended to neighboring countries like Chad and Cameroon.
The terrorist organization's presence continues to disrupt other aspects of Nigerian life, including politics and the economy. The Nigerian government decided to postpone both presidential and legislative elections for six weeks out of concern for voter safety. Without a concrete plan to address security concerns related to Boko Haram, democracy based on the current government will fail to persevere. While Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, with a 5% annual growth rate, fighting has significantly deflated oil prices and discouraged foreign investment.
The Nigerian government's response has been inadequate at best. Since declaring a state of emergency in 2013, the Nigerian government continues to struggle to contain the threat. Reports of soldiers deserting or running away from the enemy are prevalent. Troops claim that they are poorly equipped, fed, and paid. The government has attempted to use punitive measures to ensure that soldiers maintain their posts, but these efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
The newest strategy to combat Boko Haram may lie in the hands the more capable troops of Nigeria's neighboring countries.
Cameroon, Chad, Benin, and Niger have all pledged to gather a force of over 8,000 troops to help the Nigerian military defend the region against threat. Chad will supply 2,500 troops, Cameroon and Niger have promised 750 troops each, and Benin will contribute 750 troops. This new army is set to be stationed in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad. Lawmakers hope that this new coalition will be enough to stand against Boko Haram forces, which are estimated to be about 4,000 to 6,000. Policymakers, police, and humanitarian advocates are set to vote on the logistics of the proposal later this month. Obstacles to passing the proposal are closely tied to funding. As of February 7th, the Nigerian government stated that $4 million USD would be necessary to finance joint forces by Nigeria and its four neighbors.
It is clear that the stability of West Africa depends on how Nigeria and other countries decide to handle Boko Haram. It will take a collective effort on behalf of the international community to work out a solution to this overwhelming issue that has engulfed a country for over a decade. A unified military effort by Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Benin shows great promise to bring on progressive change and peace.